So I thought that now would be a good time to answer a question that I’m often asked. Why can’t you find organic sunscreens in Australia?
The answer is a little complicated. Sunscreens are regulated in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, while organics are regulated by the Australian Organic Standards.
Sunscreen Regulations in Australia
The TGA and NICNAS regulate sunscreens in Australia. The TGA regulates ‘therapeutic’ sunscreens. The main purpose of therapeutic sunscreens is to prevent you from getting sunburnt. NICNAS regulates ‘cosmetic’ sunscreens. Cosmetic sunscreens have an SPF, but the main purpose of the product is something other than sunburn protection. Tinted foundations and moisturisers are a perfect example of cosmetic sunscreens.
NICNAS regulates cosmetic sunscreens, because you don’t buy a tinted moisturiser just for the SPF. You buy it because it moisturises your skin and gives you a healthy glow. As a bonus, it helps prevent premature aging. But you wouldn’t wear it to the beach, because that’s not what it’s designed for.
The TGA regulates sunscreens sold in Australia, because sunscreens help prevent skin cancer. If your sunscreen doesn’t work, you can end up with a painful burn. Later on, you could end up with a skin cancer that could kill you. So it’s important that sunscreens work the way they should, and live up to their claims.
Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. So it’s no surprise that Australia is said to have the strictest sunscreen regulations in the world.
All sunscreens sold in Australia must be registered by the TGA. Only approved ingredients are allowed, and these are only allowed after they’ve been tested for safety. Sunscreens can only be manufactured in approved facilities to ensure quality control.
Australian Certified Organic Standards
Under Australian organic standards, for ingredients to be organic, you must be able to grow them. If it’s not grown, it can’t be organic. Oils can be organic. Sweet almond oil comes from almonds. Jojoba oil comes from the jojoba shrub, and coconut oil comes from coconut palms. You can grow all of these according to organic principles.
You can have organic waxes. Honey and beeswax can be produced to organic standards. Carnauba wax comes from the carnauba palm. Candelilla wax comes from the candelilla shrub.
You can have organic perfumes. Essential oils come from plants, which can be grown organically. The oils are processed and blended to organic standards.
There are some skincare ingredients that can’t be organic. Minerals, clays, chalks and salts can’t be organic. You can’t grow them, you have to mine them. Zinc oxide, kaolin clay and sea salt are all common natural skincare ingredients, but they’re not organic.
They can be processed in a way that is approved by the organic certifying bodies, but they can’t be certified as organic.
To make things even more complicated, none of the Australian certified organic cosmetics processors are approved by the TGA for manufacturing sunscreen.
It’s different in other countries. For example in the US, a sunscreen can be certified organic by the NSF if at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. USDA Certified Organic has similar rules to Australia, and you can’t get a USDA certified organic sunscreen.
Active Ingredients in Sunscreen Can’t Be Organic
Under Australian organic standards, the active ingredients in sunscreens can’t be organic. This is simply because of the kind of chemicals they are.
The active ingredients in sunscreens are the ingredients that prevent you from getting sunburnt. I’ve discussed this at length in this post. To make it brief, active ingredients in sunscreens can either be a physical barrier or an absorber.
The physical barrier ingredients, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are both minerals. They work by physically blocking or reflecting the sun’s rays. To get a sunscreen with an SPF of 30, you need more than 5% of them. An example of this is the eco logical sunscreens, approved by the TGA and with an SPF of 30. The zinc oxide in that is 22%.
That means that manufacturers can’t hit the magic 95% of organic ingredients. So that means no organic certifications for sunscreens with physical barriers.
Chemical absorbers absorb the sun’s rays, filtering before they reach your skin. Absorber ingredients are not organic, either. And to get full spectrum protection, you need to use a number of them in combination. So once again, manufacturers can’t hit that 95% organic ingredients to get certifed.
So what do you do if you can’t get organic sunscreen?
Even though you can’t get organic sunscreen, you can still get great sunscreens made with natural and organic ingredients.
Here’s what to look for with a natural sunscreen:
- full disclosure of ingredients. Although manufacturers don’t have to disclose sunscreen ingredients, we can choose not to buy them if they don’t. And remember, active ingredients is not the full ingredients list.
- organic ingredients, even if the whole product can’t be certified organic.
- no nanoparticles. The jury is still out on whether nanoparticles are safe or not. The TGA doesn’t require labels warning consumers about nanoparticles in sunscreen, but you can still choose a sunscreen without them.
- physical barriers, rather than chemical absorbers. Zinc oxide is a safe, low irritant ingredient that offers excellent full spectrum protection.
Hello Charlie’s Safer Natural Sunscreens Cheat Sheet is a great place to start your research. We’ve searched out all the ingredients so that you don’t have to, and listed all the best natural sunscreens.
What’s your favourite natural sunscreen? Share in the comments below.
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